Story and photos by Becky Robinette Wright
In August 2006, Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS volunteers participated in a live burn at an acquired residential structure at 6900 Belmont Road in the county. Although Chesterfield is a combination department, only volunteers participated at this exercise, which was specifically intended for certified firefighters seeking to sharpen their skills.
"A live burn, especially in an acquired structure, is essential for the student to learn by experience the struggle of fighting a structure fire," explained Bon Air District Chief Ed Myers. "A burn building can simulate a real fire, but using an actual hose to navigate the narrow stairs, maneuver in small rooms, and face combustible components lets the student get the best feel for the heat, lack of visibility, and physical challenge of firefighting. It is the best way to get the experience that may save their lives later!"
But live-burn training is not just for students, Myers pointed out. "It's a great exercise for those who have been in the field awhile who would like to brush up on their skills and practice using new firefighting tools and methods such as fire attack, search and rescue, ventilation, and overhaul," Myers said. Participants can also directly experience the adverse conditions that can affect water supply, such as a lack of hydrants in the area, adverse weather conditions, steep hills, and the extreme distances hoses may need to be laid to provide the water, he noted. In a live-fire scenario, firefighters can also learn why fireground accountability and rehab--resting and hydrating with fluids during a fire--are also fireground essentials, Myers added.
"Opportunities like this don't come often enough," Myers said. "Perhaps only once every two to three years."
Before the actual burn scenario can occur, a lot of preparation is needed. "We remove any materials containing asbestos and high fuel load components such as shingles, carpets, drapes, furnishings, and other items that could create hazards for the students. Certain standards for the Environmental Protection Agency must be met. Nearby structures, trees, etc., and access to hydrants must be planned," Myers said.
During the Belmont burn, tankers and brush trucks were on scene as back-up for the engines. A nearby stream was noted a water supply back-up, officials said. Firefighters wet down nearby trees as the fire burned to prevent the woods from igniting.